Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Balaton Biking

Saturday, August 26th, 2017

For the final instalment of our holiday we headed north again to the shores of Lake Balaton. At 77km long it is the largest lake in central Europe and the closest thing Hungary has to a sea. We were staying in Keszthely at the western end of the lake. Having checked in to our accommodation, we went for a leisurely walk along the waterfront. Between the outdoor fitness equipment and the playground full of wet-play equipment, we whiled away a good few hours before heading in to the centre of town in search of food.

The next day we made use of the facilities provided by our ‘wellness hotel’. This included free bike hire and we spent the morning cycling along the long-distance path that heads around the lake. This was obviously a popular past-time as there was a steady stream of cyclists, including many carrying their camping gear. When we stopped for lunch I was approached by a man to ask why we were there! It was a reasonable question: he was English and was the only English person we’d met since leaving Budapest. Keszthely was full of tourists though – just mainly German-speaking including, we suspect, many of them Austrians from just over the border.

Back at the hotel we checked out one of the three pools at the hotel. Whilst this may sound very grand, the combined volume of the three pools was probably half that of the learner pool at our local leisure centre! They were perfect for cooling off in though as the temperatures were once again on the rise. Having worked our way through table tennis, table football, pool and darts we walked in to town again and wandered the grounds of the magnificent Festetics Palace. I managed to persuade the family not to have pizza or pasta for dinner again: instead we went to a Mexican restaurant!

The next day was our last in Hungary and we started to wend our way back towards Budapest, taking the scenic route along the north side of the lake. We stopped at the Tihany peninsula which was a real tourist honey pot. We had intended to go for a walk but spent most of our time there in the Lavender House Visitor Centre. We’d really only intended to go in to use the toilets but the entry fee was such that we stayed to watch the film and then wandered around the exhibits. We did make it up to the Abbey briefly before continuing on our way to the airport.

And so concluded our holiday, only slightly marred by a long drive home when we discovered, rather too late, that the M3 was closed for overnight works. We’d thoroughly enjoyed our time in Hungary despite the heat and would certainly consider a return visit although there are so many other countries still to explore…

Orfu Orienteering

Friday, August 25th, 2017

The next leg of our Hungarian adventure took us to Orf?, a small tourist village, half an hour north of the city of Pécs (where we stopped briefly to stock up at Tescos!). Orf? sits beside a string of lakes on the edge of the Mecsek hills (the highest mountain in Hungary is only just over 1000m). We checked in to our shady apartment and then walked down to the village hall where registration for the Hungaria Cup was taking place. There was a bit of queue for the ‘foreign clubs’ and we didn’t help! We had underpaid and, to make the sums harder, I’d paid in Hungarian Forints but the transfer had arrived in Euros, and I wanted to pay the balance in Forints!

The next day, we walked to the assembly area for the orienteering and then promptly had to retrace half our steps to the start which was high on the hill above the apartment. Thankfully they had decided to let the open courses start whenever they liked so Emma and Duncan went to the start with Christine and set off together. They were on the taped course, a great idea which allowed them to either follow the tape the whole way (as they did on Day 1) or make the course significantly shorter by following the obvious shortcuts on the map (as they did on subsequent days). I struggled on the steep climbs in the heat but, at least travelling slowly, I didn’t waste much time on navigational areas. Afterwards, we cooled off in the aqua park by the lake which was free to competitors.

Day 2 had the same assembly area but we drove this time as, with starts after twelve, we didn’t want to walk there in the midday sun. Thankfully my course was 2km shorter but I still didn’t manage to break 10 min/k. Emma failed to punch one of the controls despite having been with Duncan but the organisers were sympathetic and reinstated her. After the day had cooled a little, we climbed up the lookout for views over the surrounding hills.

The assembly area moved for Day 3 and the courses got shorter again for a blast around an area filled with massive sink holes. The terrain obviously suited Christine as she won her course bringing her up into third place overall. We didn’t discover this until after the prizegiving though (which took place every night at the event campsite followed by a disco until midnight which we could hear across the valley from our apartment). We headed into Pécs to take in the Turkish architecture and an ice cream. With temperatures still in the high 30s we didn’t last long though.

The assembly moved again for the last two days to the neighbouring village of Abaliget. Christine was off early and took the children with her. She improved her position again, finishing second. The children made it back before her though and even had an interview with the commentator. I had a late start and, after some early blunders, was caught four minutes by the leader of my course. I was pleased to be able to hang on to him for the middle section. We made a return trip to the aqua park afterwards.

The final day of the orienteering was a chasing start, or at least it was for Christine. My cumulative time was more than 40 mins behind the leader which meant just starting off at minute intervals. We were back with the sink holes again and I had a pretty clean run, finishing second on the day which brought me up to seventh overall. Christine was also second which meant she retained her third place overall and secured a place on the podium. Thankfully she didn’t win the 12 (screw fit) light bulbs the men got but we did have a bottle of wine and 3 litres of apple juice to drink before leaving the country! We took the cave tour afterwards which was an interesting experience given it was all in Hungarian. If nothing else, it was nice and cool.

After one last night in the apartment, it was time to say goodbye to Orf? and head north for the final chapter of our holiday…

For those who are particularly interested, these are my routes from the five days (although my GPS failed to get a lock at the start of Day 1).

Boiling Budapest

Sunday, August 20th, 2017

The Hungaria Cup came up when we were searching for possible Summer holiday orienteering and, neither of us having ever been to the country before, we decided to give it a try.Part of our decision process also included checking the average seasonal temperature: a very reasonable mid-20s °C. However, when we landed in Budapest there was a heatwave in force and the temperature was a hot but dry 39°C! The top-floor apartment we were staying in downtown Pest did have a standalone air-con unit but it simply couldn’t compete and the temperature inside didn’t drop below 30°C whilst we were there which made for some uncomfortable nights.

On our first full day, we crossed the chain bridge to Buda and walked up the hill (the shady path on the hillside looking preferable to the long queue for the funicular). To escape the heat, we descended into the Labyrinth under Buda Castle, containing a bizarre mixture of waxwork figures dressed in mouldy opera outfits and Dracula themed displays. The latter certainly had Emma spooked!

We returned via the picturesque Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion. Stopping in a playground on the way down, Emma was unfortunately stung by a wasp but thankfully didn’t react too badly.

The next day, we headed past the Parliament Building to Margaret Island, which was taking a break between being the venue for the FINA World Champs and the World Masters, and joined what seemed like most of the local population at Palatinus Strand. There was no need to sample the thermal waters with the outdoor pools being quite warm enough. Sadly Duncan wasn’t quite tall enough for the water slides but Emma certainly enjoyed dragging me down them!

City Park was the venue for our last full day in Budapest. We had booked in for the circus mid-afternoon and, not being entirely sure what to do with ourselves in the interim, we ended up in the zoo. Given the temperature, part of the attraction of the circus was that the performance took place on ice. It was a superb show and the acrobatics would have been breathtaking even without the addition of ice skates!

Whilst we were in the big top the weather broke and we emerged into a torrential downpour. The rain continued the next day but it was time to pick up the hire car and move on to the next part of the holiday anyway…

 

Emma Goes Ape

Sunday, July 9th, 2017

Having passed the minimum age limit, Emma was keen to try out the adult Go Ape at Itchen Valley Country Park. There was a certain amount of expectation setting that had to be done before we left home as she needed shoes on to be taller than the limit of 140cm but they seem fine with that when we arrived at check-in. Quite apart from any qualms over heights, my back gave out last Monday, and so the job of trailing Emma round fell to Christine, with Duncan and myself watching from ground-level.

Emma had a big cheery smile on her face the whole way round although Christine says she was a bit nervous at times. (I think she meant Emma, not herself.) It certainly didn’t hold her up though as she flew along many of obstacles. Some of the attachments were a bit of a stretch for her so she certainly needed to have Christine there to help her clip on. Christine didn’t give her any chance to forget about clipping on either! Emma’s certainly keen to return so perhaps my back pain will have to become a recurring problem…

More photos over on Flickr.

Donutting

Sunday, June 4th, 2017

Emma reached double-figures last week and, conveniently, the school had scheduled an Inset day so that she and her friends (and Duncan!) could celebrate by going donutting at the dry ski-slope in Southampton. They all had a whale of a time although, with the requirement to wear helmets and full body cover, frequent refreshment stops were required in the midday sun. (Also, drag lifts require a little more effort when you’re not actually wearing skis!)

Thankfully the chalet where party tea was held offered plenty of shade. The activity also made a good theme for the cake although I think I put about as much effort into constructing a sloping stand as actually decorating the cake itself! Once we’d seen everyone back home we packed up the car and joined the Bank Holiday traffic for a weekend of camping near Corfe Castle.

Lite Weekend of Running

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

 We had a fun Bank Holiday weekend in South Wales competing in the OMM Lite. Christine and I were entered on the Long Score with her Mum having offered to mind the children at the event centre in Cwm-du, nestled in the Black Mountains. The Lite is significant as the event is quite different from the OMM itself. Firstly, as with the Capricorn, you return to the event centre on Saturday so there is no need to carry camping equipment or food. Secondly, the weather at this time of year was considerably better than your average OMM. Lastly, the event was restricted to using rights of way only. This latter point makes a major difference: the navigation was simple, the course was much more runnable, and lastly, it meant that the route choice options were much more limited.

In the seven hours on Saturday, we ended up running 53km – considerably more than either of us had been expecting. This included an ascent of Waun Fach. Unfortunately, with Pen Cerig-calch effectively out-of-bounds it also meant that, with two hours to go, there was nothing for it but a long run back round the lanes and connecting footpaths, picking up a few checkpoints on the way. We finished the first day in second place. The winners were miles ahead of us (rumour has it that they ran a further 10km) but there was another mixed pair just behind us who we knew had been running faster than us.

The map had all of the available checkpoints for the weekend marked on it and, although it was only at the start of each day that you discovered the controls that were open and how much they were worth, there was still plenty of opportunity for route planning on Saturday night. In the end, we only made one small tweak to the route I had chosen, taking in Mynydd Troed at the beginning and returning to Mynydd Llangorse, where Christine’s Dad was stationed, towards the finish. With blisters from her new Inov-8s, Christine chose to wear road shoes on Sunday and wasn’t significantly disadvantaged. In contrast, my new Inov-8 Talon 212s didn’t give me any trouble despite only having worn them for half an hour before the event.

Rather embarrassingly, our attempt to avoid the Brecons over Easter backfired completely as there was a control within 50 metres of where we had parked the car at Llangorse Lake! It didn’t give us any advantage though with no option for canoeing across the lake! Christine’s knee started to give her some trouble with 1.5 of the 5 hours still to go but she soldiered on and, as we had time, was even persuaded to take in an extra control at the end. This brought our distance for the second day to nearly 35km, gave us a win for day 2 and confirmed our place as second overall and first mixed-pair.

Overall, a fun weekend although, as I say, quite different from the OMM. It was certainly family friendly with the children enjoying the organised walks and the mountain bike skills course laid on at the event centre. The Lite format has another couple of events in the south with the Chilterns and Surrey Hills but, even with the requirement to stick to the paths, I don’t think they can compete with being out on the open fells.

 

Easter Part II

Friday, April 21st, 2017

After the JK we headed over to Monmouth to spend a few days with Christine’s parents. The Tuesday was a lovely day and we stopped off at Westonbirt Arboretum on the way. Although a little pricey for a Forestry Commission venue there is plenty to see and we spent more time there than we had originally intended. As with, I suspect, most first-time visitors, we set off along the Treetop Walkway that takes you 13 metres up into the trees. As well as being a beautiful structure, it also has a mine of interesting information (most of which I’m afraid I immediately forgot).

After a picnic lunch, we continued around the Spring Trail which took us through the Cherry Glade to the Silk Wood barn where there was a selection of Easter activities on offer (and an opportunity to stock up on yet more chocolate!). After briefly checking out the play area next to the café (Emma was stretching the declared age range a little), we continued on into the Old Arboretum. As well as dog free zone, it also seemed to be largely toddler free which made for a much more peaceful walk than the first half.

On Wednesday we headed over to Llangorse Lake to meet up with Christine’s cousin, her family, and her extended family-in-law. We started with a walk around the lake where we temporarily lost a pair of shoes in the mud where the field had been under water just a week or two ago. Having returned to the cars for lunch, we then took to the water on an assortment of different boats (rowing plus one- and two-seater and Canadian canoes).

Christine headed off to a conference in Birmingham of the next two days and the rest of us had a quiet day around Monmouth on Thursday. We still managed to visit the Museum (an eclectic mix of Nelson and Rockfield Studios memorabilia) and Shire Hall both of which were firsts for me despite 20+ years of visiting the town. The latter is full of gruesome stories from its days as Assize Court.

On Friday I returned home with the children but we stopped off on in Gloucester on the way back with Christine’s parents. Emma hadn’t got her climbing fix at Llangorse so the kids went bouldering at The Warehouse. We then had our lunch down by the quays and wandered around the waterfront until our parking ran out.

Just two more days until everyone is back at work!

JK 2017

Monday, April 17th, 2017

We spent most of the Easter weekend south of London orienteering at the JK. We didn’t go to the sprint on Friday (quite frankly, it didn’t seem worth the high entry fee) so our first event was the medium race on Saturday on Ambersham Common. Christine went out first and had a respectable run finishing third on W40. I amused the children with the string course before we walked Emma to the start for her first W10B course. Unfortunately she took a wrong turn and missed out a control, something that Duncan didn’t repeat when he then ran the white course with Christine in tow (it was the same course as Emma’s). I had a scrappy start to my run, wasting a good couple of minutes on #7. Roger Goddard gave me a tow for a while until Geoff Ellis took him away. 12th place was set to become a recurring theme for the weekend.

Part of the draw for the weekend was a chance to catch up with friends over from the Czech Republic and we had a nice meal on the Saturday night. Sunday was the classic distance race and I had a long trek over to my start in St Leonard’s Forest. No major blunders this time but I don’t have the speed in the rough terrain as the course wound its way back on to the Holmbush map and I finished… 11th but still 12th over the two days! Emma took another wrong turn on her course but recovered successfully this time. She was still beaten by Duncan though who went out on his first course unaccompanied. Christine had another successful day in the forest and we stayed to watch her collect her 3rd prize.

There was just a string course for the children on Monday and Christine and I made up either end of a Men’s Short team. I was off first and was pleased to discover there were only seven finishers in front of me with second place under 90 seconds ahead. Dan put in a sterling effort for his first relay, holding on to 8th place. After Christine’s run we finished a respectable… 12th.

It was a fun weekend of orienteering and, probably most importantly, the children seemed to have enjoyed themselves and are looking forward to our summer orienteering holiday.